Sofia travel guide
I didn’t know what to expect from Bulgaria and its capital Sofia, especially because I read little news about Bulgaria. But the ex-communist country has a lot of cheap and delicious food, a rich history and very friendly, out-going people. The capital is growing fast as a modern city.
From free walking tours, churches, thermal water springs to modern cafes and nightclubs, Sofia is a lovely city in Europe to a pay attention to.
Bulgaria was ruled by the ottomans for five centuries, before it was captured by the Russians. Even though Bulgaria allied with Nazi Germany during the Second World War – Bulgarians saved plenty of Jewish citizens’ lives with the help of their monarch Boris III of Bulgaria and the Church. Later the communists took control over the Bulgarian government until 1989. Ever since Bulgaria is a democracy.
My first impression of Sofia was devastating, I felt extremely discomforting when I walked from the airport to the city center
Waking through the outskirts of Sofia means, one could literally see the poverty.
But once I entered the city center of Sofia, suddenly my thoughts about the capital changed within a second.
I sat down in a park and later I realized how many lush green parks Sofia offers. I can recommend South Park and Park Zaimov.
Churches, Mosque and Synagogue
You can find church, mosque and synagogue within walking distance.
Sofia reveals with all three religious institutions how diverse the ex-communist city actually is. But the main religion is Bulgarian Orthodox. The Cyrillic Alphabet confused me to read the information about the churches and some city signs.
By far my favourite architectural building in Sofia is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. I didn’t pay for the underground museum. I am sorry, I thought the money was not worth it to see some standard religious pictures in a small exhibition room with stiffy air.
But if you are student, you will get a discount for the museum.
Sofia’s cultural sites
The city welcomes all people with different walks of life, therefore a diverse cultural scene is guaranteed. Being the cultural center of the country there are plenty things to do in Sofia. If you like museums, you can go to the archeology or history museum.
Free walking tours are for free as the name suggests.
From opera, dance or ballet – the program in the most imposing theatre of the country “Ivan Vazov National Theater” is worthwhile.
Outside of the Serdica metro station, you can enjoy to walk freely around the Roman buildings that were excavated.
Take a stroll down the lively Vitosha Boulevard in the city center at the evening and drop by at one of the abundant drinking and eating places there. Apropos food, Bulgarians love their yoghurt. They seriously have a strong affection for “Tarator” a cucumber soup with yoghurt and some herbs. The food in general is excellent.
An annual custom in Bulgaria is wearing a Martenitsi from first of March until the wearer first sees a stork, swallow or blossoming tree (harbingers of spring). The tradition commemorates spring, a flourishing time in Bulgaria. Once take it off some people tie their Martenitsi on a branch of a tree.
My personal highlight: Hiking in Vitosha Mountain, even though it turned out to be a nightmare at the end.
I walked from the city center to Vitosha Mountain which took me three hours of walk. And I enjoyed every moment of it. If you love walking like I do, I highly recommend you to do the same.
Even from Sofia you can see the mountains backdrop.
It was an easy-peasy hike until the medieval Bulgarian Orthodox
Boyana Church, a Unesco World Heritage site. The church is infamous for its 240 human images on the walls of the church.
It drizzled by the time I arrived but I enjoyed my hike immensely.
After the rain stopped I walked further into Vitosha Mountain until I reached Boyana Lake. Somehow I was the only person at this isolated and abandoned lake. My joy increased while I was staring at the glinting surface of the lake. That’s how I imagined if I would get lost in the rural area of Sweden – clear lake, green forest, only a wooden house is missing to complete my bemused imagination. It was like from a storybook for children where birds are singing in the background.
The distraction of the lake made me stay for one hour.
After a short time of walking I found the panorama view-point. Wind played with my hair and I considered myself as very lucky to be the only person at the view-point.
My next and last stop: Boyana Waterfall.
The best part of my hike was the lack of people, later it turned out to be fatal. My greed to hike to Boyana Waterfall at late afternoon led to my doom. A friend warned me not to hike in the late afternoon, in particular not alone. But like I am I tend to be ridiculously stubborn.
It gradually got steeper as I got closer to Boyana. It didn’t take long until I finally reached Boyana Waterfall. It was really pretty considering I shared the view with no other than myself. I DID IT! Against the advises of my friend, I still did it! I started bubbled over with joie de vivre and in uncontrolled ecstasy I frisked.
Nearly at 6 pm I decided happily to return home.
Maps.me drafted my way back. It says 2 hours until home. My frivolous part of me thought “Easy-peasy” again. Yeah, stupid girl with her silly “easy-peasy-crap”, it turned out to be a nightmare route. Sometimes I could seriously slap myself. Too late, I started to hike.
After 20 minutes of walking I realized the way is cut off, in front of me just a precipitous rock face I have to cross along to go further. I mean everything would be fine, if the rock face wouldn’t be located above the river.
With the 3 push-ups everyday I was pretty sure I have enough strength to reveal my spiderman skills to its best. Those 3 push-ups everyday weren’t doing anything for me, obviously. BUT I passed the challenge successfully.
Another 20 minutes and my next obstacle was a two metres electric wire fence. My heart started to beat quicker and I was desperately lost.
The only way to get on the other side and out of this nightmare, was to walk along the river and passing by the fence. I also considered to walk up the hill until the end of this shitty fence. After 5 minutes uphill I gave up and resolute the river option. Without thinking too much, I jumped inside of the river without taking off the shoes. Extremely exhausted I was relief to leave the fencing part behind me.
100 metres further there was another wire fence, this time without electricity – wow, one improvement in my disastrous setting.
My head was screaming “Why me ???”. I lost my courage and imagined horrendous scenarios in my head. If I would die here, who would take care of my mum etc. I slapped my face in order to not lose sanity.
Luckily, there was a tree I could climb up to get on the other side.
I moved on and I couldn’t believe my eyes what I saw after 100 metres.
A wire fence. Again. God, damn it!! I reflected things I did wrong in my life and if karma really exists. On the other side, a survival training isn’t a bad idea if I would ever get out of this hell. Another part of me already lost its sanity. I had to get out of this lower area of the mountains and away from the fences.
Walked uphill again a 2 metres rock face suddenly appeared in front of me. There’s no turning back: I had to climb up the rock face. Almost on the top I lost balance and fell down. Nothing too bad, just a girl who is in god damn misery and cursing at herself. My second attempt was successful and I started to see from 60 metres far away a man. After 5 minutes in a state of shock; An overwhelming feeling rolled over me.
I made it out alive and before darkness!
For all of you: I highly recommend the hike in Vitosha Mountain despite my misfortune. Visiting Sofia is definitely not like any other western European city, but everyone has to find the charm of the city in their own way.